All posts tagged: Nature

Can Digital Technology Make Us More Compassionate to the Environment?

When was the last time you took a cell phone out of your pocket to snap a picture of a landscape or sunset for your Instagram account? #nature #mountains #sunset #inspiration #earth #outdoors #tranquility #breathtaking #OMG Do you ever watch Youtube videos of summit groups on the top of Mount Everest or rock climbers in the High Sierra? Are you super excited about the new season of the BBC’s Planet Earth? Why are Americans drawn to experiencing nature through their screen? One could say that this is a natural evolution from the genre of naturalist writing (think: Thoreau) to the medium that most Americans consume today in a visually based culture. As cultural historian Karal Ann Marling writes, the increased popularity of television in the 1950s produced an American popular culture where the visual became the most important of the five senses.[1] The way Americans interact with the world today is directly connected to the visual aspect of things. In fact, reading about and looking at nature are entirely different experiences that may show us a little of what …

“The Consumption of Scenery:” Ideas on Nature and the Digital Screen

“By emphasizing visitor convenience, expediency, and comfort, we have made the national park synonymous with the theme park. In the national park the theme is scenery, not experiencing the environment on its own terms. Park visitors consume scenery in our national parks as much as they consume the obviously synthetic scenery in a Disney World jungle. The experience is easy and painless, no matter the visitor’s age, physical condition, or mental preparation for his visit. Under such circumstances, park visitors are not meaningfully in the natural environment so much as watching the environment, as if it were on television instead of before their eyes.” John Miller, Egotopia: Narcissism and the New American Landscape (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1997): 59.   Ken Burns calls the National Parks, “America’s best idea,” but it might be an idea that slipped our minds. Since the 1800s, the American system inspired countries all over the planet to create preserved spaces, sacred to the people and in protection of increasingly vulnerable wildlife. Lately, I devote my time to perusing …

“Rape of the Land:” 21st Century Ecofeminism and Environmental Rape Culture

One of the primary theoretical driving forces in the emergence of ecofeminism in the 1980s is the “rape of the land” concept. Essentially, ecofeminists argued that the root of contemporary ecological problems rested in a patriarchal society – one that placed a lower value upon the “other,” which was anything outside of the perceived norm: anything not male, not white, not heterosexual, and not “civilized” culture. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and homosexuality all fell under this category. The realization that nature was also in this group was the work of early ecofeminists like Carolyn Merchant, Susan Griffin, and a slew of other creative and bright minds. The idea that a patriarchal society could “rape the land” stemmed from two theories: 1. That it is the nature of a patriarchal society to dominate and control entities that fall outside of established rules of culture. 2. That women could reclaim imagery of the goddess in nature (or, Mother Earth) as a source of power. A few of the ways in which it was perceived …

A Photograph and a Painting: William Henry Jackson, Thomas Moran, and Capturing Yellowstone Vistas

  William Henry Jackson is one of the best-known photographers of the nineteenth-century, publishing images of the Yellowstone wilderness as a member of the government-sponsored Hayden Survey before it was a national park and documenting the White City during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for tourists and posterity. He became a legendary figure in the narrative of National Park history, and living to almost one hundred years, served as a link between the twentieth-century obsession with the west and the myth of the frontier. Through the antebellum era there was a widespread assumption that the West was uninhabitable for “civilized men.”[1] It was too desert-like to be worthwhile. Eventually, this belief gave way to a large-scale welcoming of frontier expansion by the general population for Euro-American settlers as a result of conclusions derived under the directorship of Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829-1887) during the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. These surveys helped to “[destroy] the myth of the desert and legislat[e] the myth of the garden in its stead.”[2] Hayden approached Jackson in …

“From Stars to Microbes:” The Natureness of Nature

“What is nature?” This may seem like a strange question. It is early spring in Pennsylvania and you would be hard pressed to find someone who is not talking about or thinking about nature in some manner these days. “The weather is beautiful today!” “Oh awesome – I can’t wait to go for a bike ride after work.” “Do you want to go to dinner where we can sit outside?” “Yes! Definitely. Let’s go to that restaurant with the great tree in the backyard.” “I am so happy that my bulbs are finally appearing. I love spring.” Ok. OK. So, I made these conversations up on the fly. But I guarantee someone in PA is saying something like this right now. I have the “what is nature” question on my mind often these days because it is the driving force behind my academic work. So, out of curiosity, I posted the question to my Facebook friends this afternoon in a seriously unofficial “poll.” The first answer appeared within seconds from a long-time friend: “Bugs!” I …

“Trees and the Wild”: Matt Pond, the American Pastoral and the Sublime [Condensed Version]

*The article below is a shortened version of a conference paper of the same name that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference held in New Orleans, LA on April 4, 2015. Additionally, the presentation is portion a longer work exploring the role of musicians in the twenty-first century speaking to the idea of the landscape in American culture. Scholars show that American culture, in part, developed around the people’s reaction to nature and the wilderness. Americanist Henry Nash Smith describes the pull of the frontier in Virgin Land (1950), Perry Miller depicts a nature-manipulated change in the Puritan mind in Errand into the Wilderness (1956), and cultural variations are explored in Roderick Frazier Nash’s meticulous search for American interpretation and interaction with the outdoors in Wilderness and the American Mind (1965). This nature-driven response permeates American cultural production. American nature, and the wilderness, serves as an unavoidable topic of discussion when asking the question, “Who – or what – is America?” In the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected on …

Some Thoughts on the Landscape in American Culture

Rarely do humans stop thinking about nature for large swaths of time. More specifically, we continually think about the landscape – what it looks like, what is on it, and our interaction with it. Sometimes we desperately pull ourselves toward the landscape, as if its power could make us whole. Other moments we push and push and push away, settling our gaze on human-made artifacts embedded with promises of physical and mental improvements. Maybe we can transcend our humanity for true perfection. Either way, we define our place in the world in relation to the land we walk upon. The push-pull underscores human history and its future. Who are we? Where do we live? What are our limits? How can we burst through those restrictions? To say Americans have an affinity for the natural world may be an understatement. The first settlers and explorers arrived with the belief that the land was a wilderness. (Though, before we raise criticism and remind ourselves that there were thousands of humans living in the Western hemisphere, remember that …

Transcendentalism Today; or, Music as Cultural Thread

Each generation believes their ideas to be creative, inventive and the finest the world has seen. While the great art of history is venerated, musicians are inducted into halls of fame, and scientists are esteemed for their work – aside from the typical grievances against “strange” things – the newest generation imagines their view of the world to be the most complete. Similarly, if historians of culture make connections to earlier eras, often it is with the understanding that the current method is the preferred method; it is the most perfected method (possibly, the most politically correct method, too). Granted, big issues such as American slavery, pre-feminist/über-patriarchal society, homophobic, and pre-regulation factory eras always are foul and certain philosophies rooted in these ideas should not be revived. Yet, when considering more subtle undercurrents of American thought, should we continue upholding that eras/periods/phases are really finished? On to the new thing! We “debunked” the old way and are moving on to what is correct. Are we disconnected completely from, say, nineteenth century thought? Independent from nostalgia, …